The 12 members of the 2016-2017 Health Corps team began their service year in August. They serve at 7 agencies in the Greater Washington region. We asked them to speak a bit about their experiences.
The mission of Food & Friends is to foster a community of caring for men, women, and children living with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other life-challenging illnesses by preparing and delivering specialized meals and groceries in conjunction with nutrition counseling. Team member Lola Adebiyi serves as the Client Enrichment Coordinator, providing food deliveries to clients at their homes and conducting home visitations on an ongoing basis to assess client needs.
“Food has the amazing capacity to bring people together in happiness and healing. From my first day entering Food & Friends’ beautiful building as the new Client Enrichment Coordinator, I was greeted by welcoming smiles and a friendly rapport that made me feel like I had known these people for years. I have been given the privilege to welcome new Food & Friends clients with the same warmth through facilitating first day deliveries and meeting with them one-on-one in their homes. Through this experience, I have come to truly understand how some living situations can become a burden on top of having HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other life-challenging illnesses. This opportunity has been challenging and humbling, but being able to provide food security and nutritional assistance to those that need it the most has been life-changing. As Client Enrichment Coordinator, I work with a formidable staff to also coordinate programs like the microwave delivery program and our annual holiday gift drive. From my jovial morning conversations with the Food & Friends shuttle driver, Carl, to the handshake I share with Stan, one of our delivery drivers, before I head into the offices, I start my mornings knowing that I am being supported by such a caring community. I can sincerely say that I made a great decision by joining the Washington AIDS Partnership to address the needs of the D.C. area concerning hunger, nutrition, HIV/AIDS, and other illnesses. I look forward to learning more from staff, clients, and my teammates while understanding my role in serving the D.C. community.”
HIPS promotes the health, rights, and dignity of communities impacted by sexual exchange and/or drug use due to choice coercion or circumstance. HIPS provides compassionate harm reduction services, advocacy, and community engagement that is respectful, non-judgmental, and affirms and honors individual power and agency. Corey Walsh serves as the Mobile Services and Volunteer Engagement Coordinator. and Zoe Grimaldi is the Outreach and Case Management Associate.
“Working at HIPS has granted me the incredible privilege to be included in a part of D.C. that many folks don’t see (or choose not to see). As an organization that leads the field in harm reduction approaches for sex workers and drug users, it has deeply challenged my perspective on public health and the barriers that face these communities. Many of our clients are experiencing homelessness and/or identify within the trans* community, so experience in LGBTQ issues is a huge asset for working at HIPS. I would describe HIPS as a non-traditional and interdisciplinary work environment, where I have the opportunity to shape my position to match my strengths while building new skills. As a Mobile Services Program Associate and Volunteer Engagement Coordinator, I engage in direct service with our clients through our outreach van during the daytime and overnight. I also serve as a liaison between a cohort of volunteers, planning fundraising and advocacy events for engagement inside and outside of the communities we serve.”
“As the Outreach and Case Management Associate at HIPS, I provide low-barrier supportive services to sex workers, drug users, trans individuals, and their communities through daytime and overnight harm reduction outreach, drop-in services at the HIPS office, and a 24/7 hotline. These supportive services include the distribution of various HIV prevention tools, administration of HIV/HCV testing and counseling, linkage to community resources, emotional support/micro-counseling, and linkage to crisis services. I provide these services on a drop-in basis during office hours, and approximately two days per week on the daytime mobile van. I also assist with case management and linkage for clients who are connected to HIPS through mobile services and/or the hotline. My specific responsibilities within case management involve: keeping confidential files and thorough case notes on clients, becoming trained in housing services in D.C., following up with clients who dropped out of care or are at high risk of doing so, providing personal assistance and support to clients as they engage with and navigate systems of medical care, housing, identification services, and other community resources to help clients improve their overall health and lives. During shifts on the overnight mobile van, I serve as an Outreach Team Leader (TL), and am responsible for supervising all components of outreach and driving the mobile van. I’m honored to have learned so much from my coworkers and clients, and I’m so happy to be a part of the dynamic, beautiful HIPS community.”
Joseph’s House is a residence for formerly homeless people who are terminally ill, usually with an AIDS diagnosis, in Washington, D.C. The residents receive 24-hour nursing services, case management, addiction counseling, end-of-life care, and emotional and spiritual support. Team members Joseph Sewell and Joe Servidio serve as Resident Care Aides, providing social support and advocacy, assisting residents with daily living activities and personal care needs, and providing companionship to the residents.
“Joseph’s House is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It is a hospice and a residential care facility, but even more so—it is a home. The staff is really more family to the residents and to each other. Dedicated to supporting the process of healing into life as much as healing into death, everything that occurs is done in an atmosphere of love, spirituality, and community. I wear many hats at Joseph’s House, some of them at the same time. I give bed baths and administer medication, I serve as a calming presence for residents in their time of need, and I accompany residents to appointments. Transitioning into Joseph’s House is not a quick process. Adjusting to the experience takes time. It isn’t the easiest thing but it’s been the most rewarding experience of my life. The things I’ve learned, about HIV, about health care, about healing, and about life are invaluable. The warmth and welcome I received on day one has met me at the front door each morning when I arrive at work. Being at Joseph’s House is chaotic at times, completely relaxed at others, and everything in-between. Serving at Joseph’s House will transform you in so many ways, teach you things you didn’t know you needed to know, and reward you with everything it has to offer in return for everything you have to offer.”
“Oftentimes, my biggest challenge working at Joseph’s House is finding ways to give back to the residents and staff as much love, care, and support as they give me. The lines drawn between student and teacher, care giver and care taker, aren’t just blurred — they’re completely erased. And after 20 years of schooling, it’s refreshing and rejuvenating to feel utilized and needed without having to flaunt any 5-syllable words or fancy math equations. Instead, at Joseph’s House, we celebrate each other every day for showing up, being present, and being together. I used to assume people were lying when they would say they get excited to go to work, but now I understand the feeling; working at Joseph’s House has changed my mentality from TGIF to TGIMonday. From the quick banter that makes us all laugh at the breakfast table every morning, to car rides when we swap life stories, to our hugs when we say goodbye every night, Joseph’s House has become my home and our community has become my family. As a fresh college grad with degrees in math and writing, I often confuse people when I tell them I work at a hospice house. It’s difficult to explain how much fun, love, and compassion we all share at the house, and it’s even more difficult to explain how much personal and professional growth, as well as emotional and intellectual maturity, my time at Joseph’s House has afforded me. It has generated within me a complete paradigm shift, revolutionizing how I understand the world and my role in it, and I am so incredibly fortunate to have been given the chance to experience such a privilege.”
La Clínica del Pueblo is a community clinic serving uninsured Latino immigrants in the metropolitan region. La Clínica provides a wide range of health services for their clients including mental health, social services, and comprehensive HIV prevention. Team member Nathan Rockey serves as HIV Prevention Counselor and Health Promotion Educator.
“This year I have the amazing privilege of being part of the ¡Empodérate! Youth Program team as an HIV Prevention Counselor and Health Promotion Educator. ¡Empodérate! is the LGBTQ youth center of La Clínica del Pueblo and is a safe place for LGBTQ youth to hang out, access bilingual HIV and STI testing, and find support while battling many forms of structural violence including barriers to well-being that are related to immigration status, transphobia, and homophobia. Whether a participant comes in to the center to get tested for HIV, to get help accessing legal services, or simply to relax on a couch and chat, ¡Empodérate! Is a place where they can be themselves and be loved. As a member of the HIV prevention team, I help conduct HIV testing and counseling services both at our youth center and at a variety of outreach events throughout D.C. and Maryland. I also help lead health education sessions, assist with navigation of services for clients, and help manage HIV testing data. I am constantly invigorated by the love, compassion, humor, and resiliency that I witness each day at the center. My future goals involve going to medical school, and I am confident that this experience will enable me to be a more compassionate physician with a deeper understanding of how health disparities manifest themselves. This understanding primarily involves working to dismantle both the structural violence mentioned above and my own complicity in those processes. I am tremendously excited to continue to learn and be a part of this amazing organization for the rest of the service year.”
Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) is a community-based, multi-cultural youth and family development organization that provides services to over 4,000 low income immigrant and minority youth and their families in DC and Maryland. LAYC’s mission is to “empower a diverse population of youth to achieve a successful transition to adulthood through multi-cultural, comprehensive, and innovative programs that address youth’s social, academic, and career needs.” LAYC achieves this mission by adhering to a youth development model that offers low-income and minority youth a continuum of services, programs, and opportunities. Team member Danny Mervil serves as a Youth Developer, administering STI, HIV, and pregnancy testing and coordinating the Teen Health Promotion program.
“Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) is a community-based organization that provides a plethora of resources such as housing, HIV & STI testing, GED preparation courses, and academic counseling for youth. Serving on the health promotion team, I’ve been able to increase my knowledge and understanding of the HIV & STI epidemic that is occurring in D.C. As a Youth Developer, I serve as a tester and counselor, providing HIV, STI, and pregnancy testing to youth ranging between the ages of 13 to 24. In addition to testing, I also implement the Sexual Wellness Advocacy by Teens (SWAT) curriculum to various schools in D.C. This curriculum provides health education to schools, which allows adolescents to learn more about their sexual health. Overall, my favorite part of being a Youth Developer is having the chance to communicate with clients, and listen to their issues and concerns. Working with youth from different communities across D.C. has provided me with insight into the various barriers that prevent youth from receiving adequate health care. Knowing that I am able to counsel and educate youth in the community has allowed me to feel endless gratitude. In my position at LAYC, I have received invaluable hands-on experience in the community development, health education, and sexual health fields, and feel that I am able to truly impact the lives of adolescents in D.C.”
N Street Village is a community of empowerment and recovery for homeless and low-income women. With comprehensive services addressing both emergency and long-term needs, helping women achieve stability in their housing, income, employment, and health. Team member Teja Vemuganti serves as the HIV Program Specialist.
“While it may sound cliché, I learn something new at N Street Village every day. Interacting with clients and staff alike has changed how I view not only homelessness but also the world. The staff at N Street is warm, kind, and beyond passionate about their work and it is an absolute honor to learn and work with them on a daily basis. Not only is the community one of respect, recovery, and hope, it is one of warmth and laughter. Working at N Street has been enlightening and invigorating. Every day is a new challenge, and while some days are more challenging than others, there is always someone to pick you back up. My role at N Street includes interacting with clients and talking with them about the obstacles that they face, whether that is substance use, mental health, trauma, or general circumstances. I also teach health and wellness classes, hand out over-the-counter medication, provide access to toiletries and clothes, help serve meals, help clients get connected to direct services, and coordinate events for staff and clients. Working at N Street has expanded my knowledge on women’s health and the factors that can make health care difficult. I wouldn’t trade my placement for anything!”
Whitman-Walker Health (WWH) is a nonprofit health organization providing comprehensive, accessible health care and community services in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region. This year, WWH hosted four members. Francie Jenkins serves as an HIV Tester and Risk Reduction Counselor with the +1 and Healthy Relationships programs. Melanie Logan serves as the STD Clinic Coordinator, Clayton DesJardin is the Volunteer Coordinator, and Christina Fennell serves as an HIV Tester and REALTalk Workshop Facilitator.
“As a part of the Whitman-Walker team, my understanding of the importance of culturally-competent and welcoming health care has flourished. In the work that we do on a daily basis, primarily interacting with racial minorities, the LGBTQ community, and other stigmatized groups within society, I have learned the significance of linking the health care world with that of addressing social issues. My work at Whitman-Walker has created a foundation for my desire to serve others in a health care setting, while also maintaining the privilege to hear every person’s story. It is through spending quality time with clients that I have learned some of the most unimaginable lessons. In my role at Whitman-Walker, I serve as an HIV Tester and Risk Reduction Counselor. Although the rapid HIV test that we administer never changes, the counseling and conversation that goes on with each patient is always different. The experience of testing and counseling specifically has allowed me to define my personal passion for the concept of caring for the person, not the patient. As an HIV tester and counselor, I help people plan how they can further protect themselves, become empowered regarding their own health, and educate the community about HIV and sexual health. I also work as a coordinator of several support groups for HIV-positive clients, one of which is a group support program and the other is one-on-one peer support. These programs allow clients to discuss forming and maintaining support systems, disclosing their HIV status with friends and family, managing relationships, and also provides a safe space for discussions around other life stressors. I have been fortunate enough to form longstanding relationships with the clients that participate in these programs, and it is through these relationships that I find myself growing daily and learning many valuable lessons about society and myself.”
“During my year of service with the Washington AIDS Partnership, I have the privilege and pleasure of working at Whitman-Walker Health (WWH) in the community health department. My responsibilities at Whitman-Walker are split into two separate areas—one with Community Health doing HIV testing & counseling and one with the Gay Men’s Health & Wellness (GMHW) Free Clinic. As an HIV tester and counselor, I have learned how crucial culturally competent care is for a good testing experience, whether that manifests itself in a risk reduction form that is inclusive, or addressing your client by his/her correct pronouns and name. At Whitman-Walker, we strive to meet clients where they are, whether at a club on a Friday night or a church health fair on a Saturday. I appreciate and respect Whitman-Walker’s commitment to LGBTQ health and for seeing the person first, prior to seeing the patient. As the GMHW Clinic Coordinator, I train our volunteer testers and screeners and make sure the clinic runs smoothly each Tuesday and Thursday evening. I fill in as an HIV tester or STI screener whenever needed and prepare lab specimens at the end of each clinic. I have learned that no two nights at the clinic are the same, and the fast-paced and ever-changing environment is something I really love being a part of each week. I hope to work toward several goals I have set for the clinic this year including expanding our services to women and preventive care, specifically PrEP. I am proud to work at an organization that truly practices what it preaches and I cannot wait for what the rest of the year has in store for our team!”
“Whitman-Walker Health has been a staple in the D.C. community due to its status as the first LGBTQ-centered clinic in the area. As a Health Educator, I provide HIV prevention, testing, and counseling to a truly diverse client base. In the clinic and during mobile testing events, I assess client risk, engage in risk-reduction solutions, and create connections to other services provided by Whitman-Walker, including mental health and STI testing. Beyond carrying out these health education tasks, I manage the substantial volunteer base that supports Whitman-Walker’s services. Much of what Whitman-Walker does is reliant on the efforts of volunteers. As the Volunteer Coordinator, I aim to continue to expand the role of volunteers through education and training sessions. This allows me to disseminate outreach and testing knowledge in an effort to prepare the volunteers to provide the best client-based service possible. I also drive volunteers on the mobile testing van to and from events, including health fairs, nightclubs, and other outreach events. At these events, we distribute safe-sex kits, encourage routine testing, and discuss prevention methods, as well as referral services. While these logistical tasks are essential, the best aspect of my position is that I am able to learn and evolve within the field of public health, because my day-to-day interactions with clients are never uniform. Every single client I talk with has a unique story that can teach me something. I have come to appreciate and understand the importance of active listening and communication. One-on-one counseling sessions reinforce the notion that the work I am involved with, whether it is connecting someone to PrEP, or just discussing life’s hardships, has a real-time impact on the frontlines of the fight against HIV.”
“I have the pleasure of working with Whitman-Walker Health youth services as an HIV Tester and REALTalk DC Workshop Facilitator. In this capacity, I administer HIV, STI, and pregnancy testing primarily to youth between the ages of 13-24. I also travel to various public high schools and colleges to host HIV/STI 101, self-esteem, and healthy relationship workshops. My favorite aspect of my service site is how we incorporate youth into the organization. Within the REALTalk DC program, D.C. high school students have the opportunity to serve as Peer Representatives and Peer Ambassadors. They participate in outreach initiatives, tabling events, and in the health education sessions with the youth services staff members. Their contribution is so significant, as they bridge the gap between staff and youth. I love how diverse the activities are for youth who work for Whitman-Walker, and for youth who simply want a safe place to relax after school. On the last Thursday of every month, we host a session called “Sex, Milk, and Cookies” where the youth discuss various life topics. On the last Friday of each month, we host an event called “Floetic Friday.” This event is awesome because it is an open mic night where youth and local artists can share their poetry and music in front of a supportive audience. From a public health perspective, I am learning so much about how youth view sex, their unique needs, and why it is necessary for organizations to have HIV/STI education and screenings specifically adapted for them. This experience has solidified the idea that in diverse communities, different and targeted communication approaches are required. I love my experience, and I am so happy that I can work within the Youth Services.”